Five Things: 2/15/16

Five Things: 2/15/16

I’ve written about this topic before, but have been thinking about it again for some reason.

1.Why aren’t there more FTWPTT creative writing jobs?

I have this theory about why the discipline of creative writing has not flourished more than it has in higher education. By “flourish,” I don’t mean numbers of students in classes or the number of majors or minors. We’re doing fine in that regard. Demand is high. By “flourish,” I mean jobs–good jobs, full-time (FT), well-paid (WP), tenure-track (TT) jobs–in English departments (or in some cases Art departments or Writing departments). I’ve taught at four different colleges (five if you also count where I got my MFA) and in every case, the ratio of FTWPTT faculty has always been off. Literature faculty generally outnumber Creative Writing faculty as well as Composition faculty and especially Teaching faculty. (In literature, for example, there are reasons for “coverage” and the corresponding FTWPTT positions to provide that coverage, although that model is also coming into question.)

2. Because we don’t have real power.

I think that the reason why there aren’t more FTWPTT creative writing jobs to go around (despite the demand) is that not enough FTWPTT creative writing faculty have risen in the ranks of academic bureaucracy and become deans and provosts, those who ultimately decide whether to create or convert a FTWPTT position or use contingent labor, those who deal with budgets and politics and meetings. I don’t think people understand this: departments only have so much power to run a search, and areas within those departments have even less power than that. You can ask, certainly, but ultimately, the people “upstairs” or “in the xxx building” decide. I know CWers who have taken their turn as directors of CW programs and as department chairs, but relatively few who’ve moved further up than that. (However, a year ago, I asked my CW friends on FB for examples of these folks, and I did get quite a few answers.)

This could be you!
This could be you!

3. Because we don’t want power.

Creative writers define themselves in terms of their published work and/or to their teaching and mentorship–primarily. Navigating THAT is difficult enough. Deciding how much time and energy to devote to your writing and to your teaching, deciding if you want to be “known” as a nationally recognized writer or as a great teacher, or hopefully, BOTH. What’s rare, I think, are creative writers who are willing to play Academic Game of Thrones, who aspire to be movers and shakers within their institution. Most creative writers I know spend as little time as possible trying to move up the ladder in this way. Actually, it’s rare to find any English faculty at all working their way up the food chain, but in my experience, creative writers tend to be the absolute least interested in this kind of work. We are an ambitious lot, sure, but the “prestige” we seek has nothing to do with the grandiosity of our academic title, the size of our office, the amount of power we wield, or even how much money we make. What we want is to be recognized and remembered as writers and/or teachers, not as academic leaders or as higher education bureaucrats. And so we go to work, teach our classes, take our turn, and try hard to avoid commitments that nibble away at what little time and energy we still have for our writing. Keep your head down. Keep your hand down. Do your job. No more. No less. Protect your time. These are our mantras.

4. Because we just want to write, damnit.

Maintaining a writerly identity is hard fucking work–no matter your day job, no matter if it’s inside or outside the academy, no matter whether it’s FTWPTT or “contingent” (meaning maybe not FT, definitely not WP or TT). I mean, here I am on sabbatical (thank you, employer), at an artist residency no less, not working on my novel but instead, getting this “theory” out of my head, where it’s been swimming around for months, like a little blue gill nibbling away at the line I’ve cast into the water. I don’t want that blue gill. I want to catch a big fish, damnit. But this little fish won’t go away. And every minute I spend worrying about this stupid little fish, I feel less and less like a “real” angler and more like an amateur angler or a like a conservationist or an employee of a fish hatchery or a fishing lure designer.

5. Because because because…

I’m not even going to come up with a fifth thing. I’m going to stop right now, because I want to go work on my novel.

Five Things

3 comments

  1. Can't Be Outed says:

    Absolutely. I am pre-tenure and disillusioned by the tenure track itself because, while I love my classes, the extra commitments on top of teaching doesn’t leave me the head space to write. I didn’t get my graduate degrees in creative writing only to lose my ability to write. I deeply loved the academy during my MFA/PhD and am surprised to discover how poorly it fosters the creative work of its faculty.

    • Cathy Day says:

      It’s not uncommon to leave your graduate program with a good feeling. We *think* we’re seeing “behind the curtain” in grad school, but really, we’re not. Actually, I don’t know if anyone can really prepare you for the reality of a tenure-track job, and I think that ALL academics experience the same frustrations you’re experiencing. I’ve blogged about a few things that have worked for me, so perhaps those posts can help you. Good luck! It’s not impossible, but it does take an incredible amount of discipline to stay productive as a writer while serving your department and your university.

  2. This all rings true to me. I’m just getting started as a part-time instructor, and I love it, but I’m just now realizing how much it would take to teach to 2 or 3 classes a semester PLUS admin duties. When would you write???

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